UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

Cameroon's disquiet worsens

At least we can now say for sure that Samuel Eto'o does not pick the Cameroon team. That was the accusation leveled against the captain, and his coach, Paul Le Guen, before their Group E opener against Japan on Monday.

But the 1-0 defeat went so badly for Cameroon that the local press has suggested that Eto'o might have done a better job in charge ­and he certainly would not have picked himself as a right winger.

"I played where Paul wanted me to play and at times I was defending like a right back," a remarkably calm Eto'o told Canal Football Club on Wednesday night. "I've played all my life in a different position and became the best goal scorer in the history of Cameroon in a different position. At the end of this World Cup, Paul will have to justify his choices to those who placed their trust in him."

The Eto'o decision is not the only one that Le Guen had to justify after the game. The selection of Pierre Webo ahead of Achille Emana in attack, the decision to drop Arsenal's influential defensive midfielder, Alex Song, and the introduction of his first substitute as late as 65 minutes in were all heavily criticized.

"I take responsibility for all my decisions," Le Guen said, before directly responding to Eto'o's criticism. "Like many other players, Samuel was playing in a position he has occupied for much of the season. Samuel has been playing on the flank for Inter Milan and that's where he played for us during the qualifying matches."

Bizarrely, the choice to play midfielder turned center back Stephane M'Bia at right back for the first time in his career has been overlooked on Le Guen's rap sheet, even though Japan's winning goal came after M'Bia had deserted his post.

Sources close to the team have told SI.com that tempers flared in the dressing-room after the game, and scuffles broke out between some of the players.

The unrest that Le Guen feared before the tournament has now escalated. "You don't have to be friends to play football together," Cameroon FA president Iya Mohammed said. "Even if you suppose that there are clans, the team must come above any personal problems."

There are three separate factions in the Cameroon camp at the moment: those who back Le Guen, those who back Eto'o and the old guard that believes former captain Rigobert Song should never have been stripped of the captaincy. Alex Song, Rigobert's nephew, is alleged to have aligned himself so strongly with the last group that his omission is now being seen as a political rather than a sporting decision. Alex Song stayed behind in training with the first team on Wednesday night and is expected to start Cameroon's must-win match against Denmark on Saturday.

"There have been too many changes in the Cameroon team, but if they channel their combativeness in the right way, they could still beat Denmark," Alain Giresse, Le Guen's former Paris Saint-Germain and France teammate, and now Mali coach, told Le Messager.

There have even been calls for Le Guen to be sacked before the group stage is over. For now, Mohammed had pledged his support to the beleaguered coach, which is more than Eto'o has done.

"If I am put on the right again [against Denmark] and we need to score a goal, and I think I can score that goal at center forward, then I won't hesitate to move there," the striker said.

"Paul has taken the flak for this defeat and now he needs to think about what to do next."

Ben Lyttleton has written about French football for various publications. He edited an oral history of the European Cup, Match of My Life: European Cup Finals, which was published in 2006.

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.